Monday, February 13, 2017

Stealth De-cluttering

I didn’t notice it at first. It snuck in under my radar. It started with a plastic plate left at my house during a party about a year ago. I tried to find the owner, waited for him or her to call, but they* never did. Maybe they considered the dish disposable. Maybe they thought of it as a paper plate, so they left it. I washed it and kept it, thinking the owner might eventually materialize and reclaim it. It’s still here.

A while later, Peggy came over and brought some fruit in a bowl. As she was leaving, she said, “Oh, keep the bowl. I don’t want it back.”

It was a nice bowl, lots of color and a good shape. I thanked Peggy and admired her generosity, adding the bowl to our kitchen cabinets. I didn’t yet understand this as a phenomenon, as some harbinger of clandestine redistribution.
A month or so ago, we had another party and people brought lots of hors d’oeuvres. When all the clean-up was over, there were three dishes left unclaimed. Only one had a name written on the bottom. (What a good idea, I thought: they simply did it with a marker.) I waited, hoping to hear from the others.

And waited.

Finally, I emailed everyone who’d been at our house. Attached photos.

First Terri replied. The red bowl was hers. She’d “meant to let you know I left it.” I was free to recycle it.
Then Dawn came to the door, and I guessed: “The platter is yours, right?” It was, she laughed, she’d hoped to ditch it, but knew that I was trying to de-clutter so she’d better claim it. Now she’d have to find another way of dispatching it.
And then it hit me: everyone was covertly de-cluttering like a game of hot potato. When the music stopped, and the guests went home, their de-cluttering detritus was in the hands of the host. How could I have missed the premeditation of it? I thought everyone was just getting forgetful; I didn’t realize it was intentional.

Think of this: if we put bar codes on the dishes instead of our names, we could track their journey from potluck to potluck, just like tracks books “released into the wild.” This could be exciting. How far can one unwanted platter travel?

We’ll see. I’m starting with the plastic plate left at my house a year ago. If I show up at your house with some snacks, you’ve been warned.

* = singular they


  1. You need younger friends, who are still collecting.

  2. "They" worked fine in your paragraph. I use it, too. My problem with it as indefinite gender, singular is when one uses it with ear-trained, verb-number agreement. Then it sounds like this: "They is coming to dinner".

    Ouch. Kinna loch, whi hav grammerr et aal? [Well, why have agreed spelling?] Yeah, we have conventions. Like walking to the right in Anchorage; they don't do that in London -- and no, they don't walk to the left either -- they walk wherever. Point is, you doesn't notice a convention until you're somewhere it just aren't.

    So we (try to) write globally (within taught language's conventions), even as people talk locally. I'm willing to find that new, non-gender single-person pronoun. Where shall we start?


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