Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Cabinets and storage spaces can be a trap.

As part of our house polishing process, Mr. See asked me to install a handicap shower bar in our guest bathroom.  It seems like a good idea to put these in any house, as eventually you'll reach a point we need to hang on to something when taking a shower.  In fact, you probably need this even when you're young and ambulatory.  Why we didn't have these before is beyond me.  More people are killed falling in the tub than, well, a lot of things.  Most probably hit their head on the handicap bar.

Installing it wasn't too difficult, although I had to locate the studs with exact preciseness using my stud finder. And then drilling through the tile was a bit nerve-wracking, although I used a sharp carbide bit, and managed not to crack any of the tiles.  The bar came with six stainless steel screws, just to make sure it had sufficient grip in case somebody really had to put their weight on it.   It seems to support my weight so I think it's good to go.  I put in two extra screws just to be sure.

In the process of installing this though, I reached into the vanity cabinet in the guest bathroom to find some cleaner and noticed there was an awful lot of junk in there.  Little tchotchke items and whatnot as well as old magazines, cleaning agents, soaps, and other things that sort of accumulated over a period of 15 years.  It made me realize the cabinets can be a dangerous thing.

A friend of ours remodeled their house and installed a number of cabinets in a pantry as well as in their kitchen. They have cabinets everywhere, and if you open any of these cabinets or drawers they are stuffed to the gills with all sorts of stuff.  That is the danger of cabinets.  It's all too easy to shove things into a cabinet, closet, drawer, or dresser and close it shut and not think about it.

And the more cabinets, closets, drawers, and dressers you have, the worse it gets.

The problem of this is threefold. First, this encourages hoarding. Once you shove something in a cabinet and forget about it, it's like it never existed.  So you can think that you own less things than you actually do, when in fact you have things, but they are merely hidden away.  As a result, you tend to accumulate more stuff, as you don't realize how much junk you already have.

The second problem, as I've noted before, if you own something and don't know where it is, it's like not owning it at all.  As a result you end up buying things two or three times because you own something, but you can't put your hands on it because it's lost in the cabinet, drawer, attic or basement or some other storage place.  Stuffing things away doesn't just wear on your psyche, it wears on your pocketbook.

If you go through a cabinet, drawer, closet, or whatever and find something and say, "I wondered where that went!" or "I was looking for that the other day!" then maybe you have a problem.

The third problem is clutter.  As we acquire things, they act as a psychic drag on our minds.  Just like the character of Jacob Marley in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, we are chained down by our possessions in life and they haunt us daily.

There are two ways to avoid this problem. The first and easiest is to have a fewer cabinets, closets, drawers, and other storage areas.  And unfortunately this is hard to resist. It's easy to install more cabinets, as we recently did when we remodeled our garage.  And of course, those cabinets are now full of crap as you might expect.   Well, not "full of crap" but organized with lots of precious things.

If you are going to put things in drawers, cabinets, closets or whatever, have a dedicated place for certain things.   Mark uses the dresser in the guest room for table linens.   Only one place to look, for those.  A chest in the front hall has candles and napkins.  I used an old liquor box that belonged to my Grandfather, for electronic devices, like phone chargers and USB cables and power supplies and whatnot.   In the garage, I have banker's boxes labeled for certain things I need to find on a regular basis.   If you are going to keep something, organize it and store it somewhere where it can be readily found, with other, similar items.

Cabinets and closets jammed with dissimilar items aren't saving anything.  It is just vertical landfill, in your own home.  Once you start jamming things into closets and cabinets, odds are, you will never take them out again.

Bear in mind that any horizontal surface has the potential to become a hoarding spot.   I was reluctant to install a countertop in our laundry room, knowing full well the temptation to place "stuff" on it, on a regular basis.   It is all-too-easy to come home from work and toss your sweater and car keys on the first available horizontal surface, along with perhaps, some loose change and other things in you pocket, or something you bought at the store.  Before long, the countertop is obliterated with these sorts of things.

The second way to avoid this problem is to be resolute in policing your cabinets regularly.  Go through them on a regular basis and clean out things you're not using and either throw them away or sell them.  If there is something jammed in a cabinet that you do use, put it with like things in a dedicated cabinet for that thing.  If there something in a cabinet that you haven't used or touched in over a year, chances are you're never going to use it again and it's a good idea to think about getting rid of it.

Now bear in mind there are some things that should be jammed in such cabinets. In a bathroom under-sink cabinet, it makes sense to have spare rolls of toilet paper, soaps, towels, and whatnot that you use in the bathroom.  It makes no sense to have to wander out to the garage every time you need a new roll of toilet paper.   But these should be things that are used regularly, not just random stuff that gets thrown in there and left for years.

Kitchen and bathroom cabinets bear special mention as sinks can often leak.  If the sink backs up, it may drip water in your cabinet, and whatever you have in there may get ruined or moldy.   If it is just a few extra rolls of toilet paper, it is no tragedy.  If it was something you wanted to keep, well, a different story.   By the way, it pays to keep a plastic tray or plastic lining in a cabinet for this reason.  No matter how new your plumbing is (or particularly new plumbing) leaks occur - and can ruin the cabinet itself.

Your so-called "junk drawer" reveals nothing about you, other than a tendency to hoard.

So-called "junk drawers" also bear special mention.  A lot of folks have such a thing, full of "stuff" that accumulates and never gets used.  A dead D-cell battery, a bent screwdriver, a collection of paper clips, a broken pair of pliers, a yellowed old note that says "important!" on it, a shopping list from 1975 - and so on and so forth.   Some folks sell "junk drawer organizers" and some folks waste valuable hours trying to "organize" a junk drawer.   If it is really junk, then why not throw it out?

Now, there is a contrarian theory on some of this sort of thing.  For example, Mark is a proponent of the "keep it handy" theory.  If you have accumulated  a half-dozen nail clippers over the years (which isn't hard to do, as they give them away), why not have one in every drawer in the house and in every glove box in every car, so they are handy?   Or corkscrews - who hasn't been in the situation where you are trying to open a bottle of wine at a picnic and can't find a corkscrews?  (Hint:  Push the cork in, a trick I learned from my Dad).  So leave one in each glovebox, right?

There is a logic to this, at least with regard to corkscrews and some other things.  But these are things you use regularly (or need semi-regularly) and where it makes no sense to organize them into one drawer.  Indeed, a drawer with only corkscrews in it would make little sense.

Hoarding is a difficult problem to deal with, and even organized hoarding is hoarding. Just because you feel like your crap is organized in a cabinet, it is still hoarding. If you own things that you don't use, but are merely stored, then you are hoarding them.  If you find yourself jamming something into an already-crowded cabinet, maybe it is a sign to just throw everything in that cabinet, away.

The best cabinet is an empty cabinet!