aspirations on display

metro-shelf kitchen

I couldn't live where I'm living without the chrome metro-shelving unit I found on Craigslist and drove out to Hillsboro to pick up before I moved in. I think I paid about $65 for six eighteen-inch-deep shelves, with casters. The woman I met, who was using the shelving for craft storage in a spare room, warned me while her male partner was helping me load up the pieces in my car against doing that ever again, coming alone to a Craigslist meet-up! But I needed that shelving because the kitchen in this 1908-house-turned-duplex was probably once a closet. Our kitchen/closet is lined with floor-to-ceiling cupboards, except that they still only hold one person's cooking wares. So mine are on display in the main room, for which I've gotten teased for being anal/tidy/organized. I choose to think they're jealous.

In the photo above, one can see four partial shelves, but trust me, every square inch of the unit is stocked. I even hung mugs and my set of measuring cups from a package of IKEA S-hooks along the edges. I'd rather have more space between things, but space is what's premium.

Lined along the backs of two shelves are stacks of square Anchor Hocking glass jars in different sizes, the original third or half of which I bought new at a hardware store in Berkeley years ago and the rest I've collected secondhand at Goodwill over time for $3-4 a piece. The square shape stacks well and makes for attractive display of dried fruit, barley, oatmeal, popcorn, dried pasta, rice, lentils, and beans. But they're not airtight. I keep flour and nuts in the freezer in Kerr jars. I also use a few secondhand French and Italian canning jars, more stackable than the Kerr jars and more airtight than the Anchor Hocking jars.

A small thrifted square wicker basket on the bottom shelf contains a few canned goods next to strainers, baking sheets, and a stock pot. A set of thrifted flour and sugar containers, probably from the early 1980s, arranges my cutlery and cooking utensils. Various bowls, one of which my sister made in ceramics class, hold garlic and onions and, in summer, ripening fruit. The big brown Heath casserole I found minus its lid for $4 at Goodwill a year ago. It retails for $130 new with lid. I love how the orange interior sets off dressed and glistening salad greens, as if glowing from within. More recently I've thrifted some small Spanish cazuelas, a dollar each, to use for appetizers and candle holders.

In addition to the six deep shelves, I also keep miscellaneous kitchen items like Kerr jars, waxed paper, and cloth napkins stashed in a metal Hon legal filing cabinet found secondhand in Oakland for $30. (I remember getting into a polite little spat in the thrift store with a thirty-something dad who was letting his toddler son stomp around in the bottom drawer, as if that's what filing cabinets were for. The guy called me "lady"—"Look, lady"—in that tone meaning "bitch" because I called his son "dirty," though I meant his shoes. Honestly, I almost never have conflicts in public.)

If I never had people over, I would only need one bowl, one plate, one mug, one glass, one fork, one spoon, one knife, if that. But I like having friends over for food and conversation. I imagine a future outdoor space scented with pots of herbs and climbing jasmine, shaded by vine arbors, baking smells coming from a brick oven, candles and paper lanterns flickering at dusk, strings of lights, bottles of wine, friends gathered around a large wooden table, someone playing the guitar, children darting, communal laughter.

Our possessions are often our aspirations, the life we want to be living. And so we buy exercise machines that collect dust in corners because we want to become fit and muscular and wear smaller clothes (to feel lovable, desirable). And so we buy books on skills to acquire like photography or gardening or cooking (to feel talented). We buy motorcycles at age 60 (to feel young again). We buy flatter TV's (to feel more successful). We take tropical vacations (to feel free from a 9-to-5, 50-weeks-a-year job). And I furnish a full kitchen in a small rental unit for the lush outdoor dinner parties I haven't yet had. How much of it is real? And how much pretend?

The word 'aspiration' at its core means breathing, taking in. On my laptop screen a digital sticky note reads: "Happiness = relationships, connectedness, purpose, physical activity, & growth." I got that from somewhere in the last couple of years. Do our acquisitions support our aspirations, or are they substitutes from fear of doing? Are we living as if counting down the breaths, creating the life we want now instead of waiting for some perfect set of circumstances that will never come? Do we use what we own to become healthier, kinder, more knowledgeable, more rested, more sexual, more content (note the irony), more assertive, more grateful, more loving, more active, more reflective, more confident—happier? Or are we still waiting?

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