Zsolnay cup and saucer, a relative’s trousseau spoon, a hand-crocheted runner from a friend’s grandmother.
Why do we own this in the first place?
For years now, I’ve felt a strong urge to own less. I ask myself, “Do we really need this?” before returning anything to the shelves as I restore order to our home after Pesach. The answer, when it comes to silverware and soup pots, is “yes.” But there are also items I hang onto for sentimental reasons. Others get to stay because I’d feel guilty if guests at our wedding more than two decades ago were to stick their heads into the pantry and wonder where the serving piece they gave us has gone.
Still, each time I clean up after Pesach, I manage to get rid of a few things. I pass them along to others who will enjoy them more, or I drop them into the trash, especially when I don’t care for them any longer and don’t think anyone else will either, or I have no idea how they got here in the first place.
I like when the cabinets feel roomier and I can easily take inventory. What I discover year after year is not only that we have more than I want us to own – more than what we need. But there are plenty of pretty things stashed away in there I hardly, if ever, use at all.
I realize this is silly.
I rarely buy paper goods, preferring to set our Shabbos table with the dainty 1950s china passed along to me by relatives who now use disposables on the rare occasion they entertain. For the most part, I don’t keep our things behind glass as if they’re in a museum or an antique shop. There is a lot of coming and going from our cabinets.
On the other hand, I’ve never served on the Zsolnay dishes I bought in Budapest back in the early 1990s, the ones with the deep blue trim and a bit of gold flourish. I fell in love with them on the rebound, after I realized I could never afford a complete set of Herend tableware, the pattern with the butterflies I’d been smitten with when I lived in the Hungarian capital.
The excuse has long been that I would never be able to replace the Zsolnay should a piece of it break during use. But now we have the internet and my reasoning is no longer valid. Besides, it’s the dishes I use regularly that are vintage and irreplaceable.
I resolved to give it air.
Of course, I’m not alone. Plenty of us have breakfronts filled with things we don’t use because we consider them too fancy for our lifestyle or too valuable to put into commission. But what pleasure are they giving anyone in a cabinet? We can’t take them with us. Plus, they’re more likely to break in transit than at the dinner table.
I came to this realization a few months ago regarding the plethora of vintage table linens I’ve acquired over the years from relatives and friends and friend’s relatives and their friends. I guess once word got out that I like them, I became a depot. In every instance, they’ve arrived like new, never once having been laid out on a table. All of the pieces are either hand-embroidered or crocheted, difficult to launder or impossible to manage without ironing, so I understand why.
Yes, there’s a risk of permanent staining since I eschew plastic covers, which ruin the vintage-elegant vibe. But the alternative is to let all of those beautiful linens spend another generation untouched in a drawer. I now use them, a different one each Shabbos. The cloth napkins, too. It feels right to let them fulfill their purpose in this world.
A quick side note. Bleach works wonders. Napkin rings nicely cover stains on napkins. If you position your plates just so, you can cover indelible markings on a tablecloth. And if you pull them out of the dryer right away, you can get away with not ironing them at all.
What’s the worst case scenario?
Though I’m not one for resolutions, I resolved to begin using the Zsolnay starting this Shabbos, putting the set into the rotation with my other dishes. Beneath it will be an off-white, open-crochet tablecloth that has napped at the bottom of a dresser drawer for a decade. I can’t wait to see how the table will look when it all comes together. I suspect I will gasp with delight.
The worst case scenario is that a plate will break or the crochet will come undone. The world will continue to spin on its axis. We’ll just end up with fewer things that aren’t to our children’s taste when we reach 120.
In the meantime, I will have enjoyed the pleasure of an elegantly set table and the memories made during meals served on all of those pretty things.
Use something special from the back of your china cabinet this Shabbos. Post a photo or tell me about it in the comments.