Friday, February 5, 2010


I'm getting rid of my plates.

I've had the same dishes since I graduated from college.  When I moved to the Midwest for grad school, my parents gave me a bunch of furniture and housewares they were no longer using.  Chairs and a side table and patio furniture that became a kitchen set, and dishes.  All of this was stuff I didn't have, and most of it was stuff that my roommate didn't have, except the dishes.  

The dishes were the ones my parents had used as their milk plates (they keep a kosher-style home, which involves no actual kosherness but a full helping of kosher-related anxiety, arbitrary rules, annoyance at anyone who doesn't know the arbitrary rules, and guilt) until I was a teenager.  They weren't fancy china, but they weren't inexpensive.  They were also... well, not ugly, but they had a very distinctive cherry-blossom design, and they were sort of speckly and very heavy, and they really just reeked of the seventies, which made sense since that's when they were from.

So, I moved to the Midwest with about half a set of plates.  My parents wouldn't let me take the whole set because they said I wouldn't need it; I got about half the dinner and salad plates and saucers but no bowls or mugs.  That was fine, since my new roommate had a full set of plates, which were both less expensive and less ugly, and we mostly used those.  When I got my own place I used my parents' plates, but since I felt guilty putting anything with meat on them I had to buy a couple of cheap, ugly plates at Target. 

When I moved again, my parents gave me more plates.  Their neighbor was replacing hers and they brought the whole set; there was eight of everything.  They weren't my taste, but they were newer than my parents' plates - and that set, already fairly small, had been further diminished by two interstate and several local moves, several roommates, and various other misadventures.  For a couple years I used and enjoyed the neighbor's plates, especially the part about having bowls and mugs that matched.

For my first year in New York, I had roommates, and the roommates already had a cupboard overflowing with plates.  The kitchen was small, possibly even small for a New York kitchen, and there wasn't a lot of storage space in the apartment.  I couldn't bring everything, and whatever plates I chose to bring wouldn't be used.  The neighbor's plates didn't have sentimental value, so I gave them away and packed up my parents' plates.  They sat unused for a year, and then they moved with me into my current apartment.

I still don't like them.  They no longer have sentimental value, really, because all my memories of them are memories of using them on my own, not at my parents' house.  My parents still have the mugs and occasionally use the matching soup bowls, but the bowls are a lot less ugly (no cherry blossoms).  The plates are heavy, and several of them have been broken and glued together, and they make a horrid sound when they slide over each other.  Worst of all, every time I use them I am reminded that these are the plates I have because my parents bestowed them on me.  They are weighted with all my parents' expectations that I feel obliged to try, constantly and with no success, to fulfill.  I didn't choose them, and my parents didn't select them for me.  They were given to me because I needed something at the time, and every time I've suggested to my parents that I might get new ones at some point they've said I should wait until I have a home of my own.

I'm done waiting.  I know that by "a home of my own" they mean a house with a mortgage, preferably also inhabited by a man they approve of and a couple of children for them to disapprove of my parenting of.  I know that they don't approve of my life, or - as they call it - my lifestyle.  I also know they probably don't mean their plates to be a constant reminder of the impermanence of my life, of how I'm making do with things other people have discarded, of how I'm waiting for something to happen to mark me as a person who is in charge of herself, but that is what they've become.

No more.  I'm not in college.  I have real furniture now, and the less-real furniture is at least stuff I picked myself.  Plates are not expensive or scarce, and I don't have to buy a house or get married in order to deserve them.

Today I was at Bed, Bath and Beyond picking up toiletries (they're cheaper there than the drugstore) and I stopped by the dishware (what are plates called?  silverware is flatware, right?) department.  They have many plates, some beautiful and very expensive, but some quite simple and useful-looking.  I bought four salad plates (which I use for almost everything) and two dinner plates (for cooling things, or if I make a big meal or something).  They are white and circular with a broad rim.  They cost $26.

They aren't beautiful china.  They probably aren't the plates I'll have in twenty years, but they're simple and appealing.  I like that they don't have to last.  When one breaks, I can replace it easily.  

You will think this is ridiculous.  You will think it was silly and wasteful to buy new plates, of lower quality than the plates I already have.  You will think I should be grateful for the plates my parents gave me.  But I'm tired of being grateful for things I don't want.  I am going to go right now and unpack them and put them away, and I am going to be done with the other plates from now on.


  1. No, hon. I don't think it is wasteful at all. Stuff you don't want, with bad associations, has negative value. If you did nothing but get rid of it, you'd come out ahead. Picking plates you do like is even better.

    For stuff you use all the time, you should be just a little bit pleased and tickled every time you see it. Remember William Morris:

    "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

    You are definitely on the right track.

  2. That's what I think, too. The plates are a small thing, but they are a small thing every day. I do not love my new plates, but I like them because they are mine and they are better than the old plates. And they were inexpensive and there are only a few of them, so if and when I find plates that I do love, I can fill out my set (I often see single, beautiful plates on sale for a fraction of their original price, which is still ~$25/plate - attainable but worth thinking about.) or eventually replace it. It turns out plates are too easy to get, and too often-used, to have to use ones I hate.

    I haven't told my parents about this, though. Should they ever reach the end of their list of grievances with me, I will know where to go to replenish it. :)

  3. My plates don't match, and it turns out I like that. You could buy those single, beautiful plates on sale when you see them, one at a time. Then you could love each plate in different ways and set different tables.

  4. Aren't the 70s plates weirdly small?

    My dad *still* has our original 70s plates, and our special occasional china. Everything is about a third smaller than plates sold nowadays.

  5. They seem normal size to me, but then I am used to them. The new plates are slightly bigger - the big plates are so big that my cabinet doesn't quite shut - but the salad plates are still proper size for every day use. I don't really understand what anyone uses a dinner plate for, except eating pizza (if for some reason you are doing that with plates) and cooling cookies.