Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.
Dear the post calvin,
I think I have a problem. I am obsessed with KITCHEN GADGETS. My cupboards are overflowing. Crockpot? Check. Rice Cooker? Yep. InstantPot? You’d better believe it. S’mores maker? Who WOULDN’T want one? What are the most essential kitchen gadgets? How do I pare this mess down and reclaim my house?
P.S. I’m never getting rid of the S’mores maker, no matter what you say.
Dear Cluttered Kitchen,
Oh man, I’ve had this same fixation forever. Real young, I’d tag along with my mom running errands and she’d leave me to linger in the kitchen appliance aisle. I loved handling the colorful contraptions of silicone and stainless steel. Cooperating joints of simple machines employed to achieve some precise function of food preparation—salad spinners, egg slicers, a family tree of corkscrews.
I’d rewatch kitchen appliance infomercials to memorization, back when half an hour was a chore to pass. When the only food I made for myself was cereal and Cheez-its, I dreamed of placing pale hunks of meat between two buzzsaw blades. Really, I dreamed of having the priorities of those audience members—with dinner parties to tend and the logistics imposing enough for this product to be a godsend, engineered just for my needs and lifestyle. I gasped along at the efficiency and ease and lightning-quick cleanup.
Lifestyle marketing surrounds products with contrived cinematic situations. There, the appliance becomes a hero. I used my imagination like kids are encouraged, but often to project myself as an adult. TV’s appeal was working emotionally, but I wasn’t part of the consumer public yet. I was playing with Legos on a futon.
When I graduated, my brother gifted me a kitsch electric kettle for the dorms. It’s a couple shades of beige with flower graphics on the side, the Holy Grail thrift store find. I used it to cook ramen and boil hot dogs in the coffee kitchen, with suitemates in pajamas. I wish now that I’d leaned more into the campy sensation of those bunk bed and floor events—the kitchenettes are the only place I remember celebrating it.
My first off-campus house had too many boys, but the landlord was cool with it. The house had been handed down through a college-age-window chain of mutual pals and so had amassed mysterious furniture, decorations, and of course, appliances. Two rice makers sat on the counter and one in the basement pile. We made big pots of curry and sat with friends of friends on five mismatched couches. We opened wine with toenail clippers and made a game of it. It didn’t make sense for anyone to buy even such a small thing as a corkscrew since we were all on our way to something else.
I graduated Calvin living in the top floor of a house with just one roomate, a year older and already in a nine-to-five. Moving up and in, he mentioned once in passing that this wasn’t going to be a “college house.” We had rugs that we vacuumed and frames for posters. On our limited counter space, he left a bright red UFO-looking appliance that we never used and I only found out once I asked was a quesadilla maker. A Michigan-shaped cutting board hung above our sink, also never used. That felt real domestic. The place was still grimy but sweet to come home to. And there were two electric kettles now. I started to use his chrome one since it heated up faster. We lived there together until he got married, and I migrated my share of housewares to another apartment.
My new place has collected six wooden spoons in a jar beside the stove, and I still like not remembering whose are whose. But a comfortable, clean house has become more important to me and it now feels obscene to repeatedly place one of those spoons, saucy and wet, on our white stovetop. That’s how I realized, or decided: the spoon rest is the pinnacle of kitchen goods.
A spoon rest is barely practical in exactly one way. It’s completely unmechanical and unimpressive. It’s a preemptive paper towel wipe, and it still has to be washed. It’s $9.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. I’d be goofy to provide one for a home until I was really settling in and setting up. So as the kitschiness gets less cute, it’s the ultimate domestic goalpost.
Everything else, stash in closets or basement corners when you’re out of cupboards and countertop. The “but what if I need it” nag attached to that fondue pot is keeping the infomercial “After” dream alive. Your cluttered kitchen is your house reclaimed. I think it’s a nesting instinct finally let run, and that sounds alright to me. Bask in the excess of your appliances and their future-focused warranties. And sometime, have me over for s’mores like we’re camp kids again.